Our FOIA Sunshine Law is in jeopardy once again.
This strikes at the very heart of freedom!
Arkansas Republicans are attempting to totally dismantle 1/2 of Republican Governor Winthrop Rockefeller’s crowning achievement, our FOIA law, by targeting the open meeting provisions of FOIA.
As the great Patrick Henry said, “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”
The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is the People’s Law and does not need to be amended!
Transparency must be preserved. Vote down HB1610.
HB1610 AN ACT TO AMEND THE LAW CONCERNING THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT OF 1967; TO AMEND THE LAW RELATING TO PUBLIC MEETINGS UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT OF 1967; AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
SECTION 1. Arkansas Code § 25-19-106(a), concerning the requirement of open public meetings under the Freedom of Information Act of 1967, is amended to read as follows:
(a) Except as otherwise specifically provided by law, all meetings, formal or informal, special or regular, of a quorum of the governing bodies of all municipalities, counties, townships, and school districts and all boards, bureaus, commissions, or organizations of the State of Arkansas, except grand juries, supported wholly or in part by public funds or expending public funds, shall be public meetings.
HB1610 says we really don’t want open and public government in Arkansas, which is a dismissive slap in the face to taxpayers!
Even if HB1610 is amended to permit 3 members of the governing body to meet in secret behind closed doors and outside of the view of the public, this is still a secret government meeting and contrary to the Freedom of Information Act we have in place.
Stated in the Arkansas Freedom of Information Handbook 25-19-102 Legislative intent:
“It is vital in a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner so that the electors shall be advised of the performance of public officials and of the decisions that are reached in public activity and in making public policy. Toward this end, this chapter is adopted, making it possible for them or their representatives to learn and to report fully the activities of their public officials.”
Secure Arkansas has said many times, “anyone who tries to block this process or abuse the public’s right to transparency regarding our right to know, is in violation of the Arkansas FOIA law and needs to be prosecuted.”
We NEED to keep in place the open provisions of FOIA!
The penalty for violating the FOIA is stated in the Arkansas FOIA Handbook 25-19-104 Penalty:
“Any person who negligently violates any of the provisions of this chapter shall be guilty of a Class C misdemeanor.”
How can Arkansans, i.e. electors, learn and fully report on the activities of their public officials, since HB1610 would allow public officials — including school board members, JP’s and city council members — to meet in secret. Like, on private email groups, text messages, and behind closed doors and out of view of the taxpaying public?
The “people’s business” should be conducted in an open and public manner, not on secret email chains, private text messages, or behind closed doors and out of public view of the taxpayer. The people are entitled to see how business is conducted by their elected officials.
Our public business always needs to be performed in an open and public manner so that we can see and hear the performance of our elected public officials. So, STRIKE THROUGH THAT THREATENING PROVISION IN THE BILL! ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS, please.
Once we are deprived of discussions and deliberations, we are sunk! We need more transparency, not less. Our government has become so corrupt now, the public trust is at an all time low.
Do you want members of school boards, city councils, quorum courts, bureaus, commissions, or organizations of the state of Arkansas to discuss, deliberate, and decide things in secrecy… behind your back?
Things the legislators should consider…
So, what could go wrong under the secrecy concoction of HB1610?
Lack of transparency creates distrust. This bill will absolutely create more distrust and suspicion of government, local boards, and councils.
This bill is a license for secrecy by local governing bodies in Arkansas by using the 3 careless words… “of a quorum” written in this short bill.
It does nothing to address serial meetings by a group of JPs, for instance.
If HB1610 is passed, it would allow special committees or any group to meet as long as it is less than a quorum and not be under FOIA laws. This is unacceptable.
An example could be: It dangerously allows 6 out of 13 JPs in Sebastian County, Faulkner County, or elsewhere to meet on secret email groups, private text messages, or behind closed doors and out of view of the taxpaying public. They’ll meet with the special interest groups, i.e. “Power Machine”.
For other counties, like Stone County, that have nine (9) JPs, it would allow 4 out of 9 JPs to meet and not be under FOIA laws.
Call it what it is: the “Special Interest Protection Act”, because it’s certainly not the people’s law anymore. It protects the Power Machine, and shuts out the “people”.
Worse yet, then 6 other JPs can meet. Or 3 others.
It will allow secret meetings when local liberal governing bodies in the future want to address issues “of the day” secretly, like requiring masks on our students, addressing critical race theory in local schools, sexual assaults like what happened in Huntsville, Arkansas, in the boy’s locker rooms, or awarding multi-million government contracts to unscrupulous contractors, or EVEN overturning the conservative bathroom bill, and on and on.
It will invite more Supreme Court decisions and MORE COSTLY FOIA LAWSUITS.
It flies in the face of the Arkansas FOIA’s Legislative Intent of the 1967 Freedom of Information Act: that it is vital to a Democratic Society.
Why has the bill not been before the FOIA Task Force? And, why has that process been by-passed?
Here is the history of HB1610. It comes up soon. See the Action Item below.
From the Arkansas Democrat Gazette March 15, 2023:
Bentley said the change was needed to make it easier for local lawmakers to meet to conduct business, and said it would put Arkansas’ Sunshine Law in line with how 47 other states regulate public meetings.
Currently under the state’s Freedom of Information Act, if two or more elected officials meet to discuss official business it could be considered a meeting and must be open to the public, according to the Arkansas Attorney General’s 2022 Freedom of Information Act Handbook.
Secure Arkansas asks Representative Mary Bentley, “Did you know that Arkansas has had the best FOIA/ Sunshine Law in all the country?” It was handed to us as one of the most comprehensive pieces of legislation regarding open-records and open-meetings law in the United States! For almost 60 years, Arkansans have been so proud to proclaim how great our Sunshine Law is in this state. Our Sunshine Law has been exemplary.
There’s no reason for us to step back and be a follower of obstruction dished out in other states rather than a leader of freedom that this state should bring forth as the standard! Please pull the bad bill. It impedes transparency. Let the sunshine in and darkness flee! Remember, good and bad do not belong together. Light and darkness cannot exist together.
Rep. Mary Bentley from Perryville 501-889-3556 [email protected] and Senator John Peyton from Wilburn 501-362-5813 [email protected], please pull the bill HB1610 as the primary sponsors!
Do these lawmakers really support transparency, or will they become a stumbling block? We will see…
Action Item: Please contact the members of the House State Agencies & Governmental Affairs Committee and tell them you’d like them to VOTE NO on HB1610. Do not amend our FOIA. We need to keep it in place and NOT add those 3 little words “of a quorum”.
Rep. Dwight Tosh – Chair [email protected] 870-926-0423
Rep. Mark D. McElroy – Vice Chair [email protected] 870-222-8217
Rep. Rick Beck [email protected] 501-912-1441
Rep. Mary Bentley [email protected] 501-889-3556
Rep. Mark H. Berry [email protected] 479-462-2863
Rep. John P. Carr [email protected] 479-619-5104
Rep. Nicole Clowney [email protected] 479-445-5337
Rep. Cindy Crawford [email protected] 479-782-4693
Rep. Jimmy Gazaway [email protected] 870-215-1243
Rep. Justin Gonzales [email protected] 870-245-6365
Rep. Lane Jean [email protected] 870-904-1856
Rep. Stephen Meeks [email protected] 501-314-9250
Rep. Josh Miller [email protected] 501-365-3599
Rep. Jon Milligan [email protected] 870-219-1261
Rep. Jeremiah Moore [email protected] 870-674-4373
Rep. Marcus E. Richmond [email protected] 479-299-4416
Rep. Jamie Scott [email protected] 501-398-2961
Rep. Kendon Underwood [email protected] 479-644-8461
Rep. Jeff Wardlaw [email protected] 870-226-9501
Rep. Richard Womack [email protected] 870-403-6287
You can copy/paste this list of emails to email all of the members at one time, if you like:
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Securing the blessings of liberty,
image credit for cover image